The Hash-tagging of Tragedy

What happened in Boston was horrible. There really are no words, are there? I was at work on Monday when I got a text from a friend..."OMG turn on the news" she said. Which, of course, is impossible to do when wrangling 19 preschoolers in the large motor room. Instead, my co-worker and I took turns peeking at our phones, getting updates and spelling things out over the heads of the oblivious, happy kids: "They say it was B-O-M-B-S" and "Two D-E-A-D, so far." That sick feeling you get when you know there is something awful unfolding and you are, like everyone else on the planet, helpless to do anything more than think on it. Pray on it.

My kids were all home when I walked in the back door. They were their usual cheery selves (if you're the parent of a herd of teens like I am, you know that comment is only a wee bit facetious), and before I could set my purse down, the WHAT'S FOR DINNER questions bombarded me. I made a couple sandwiches, got out some cauliflower and dill dip, and then changed into my running shoes. "I'll make dinner when I get back" I told the kids. Grabbed the dog's leash, some poop bags and I walked out the front door.

Walter and I walked. And walked, and walked. It was about 6:15 when we started. When I escorted my panting, muddy dog up the front walk it was closing in on 8:15. I couldn't tell you for sure what I thought about for those two hours, or really even where we walked. I just knew I needed to be moving, to be far away from phones or televisions or laptops.

I had to run away for a little bit. Run away from the hashtags and the facebook candles and the instagram pictures of varying creative ways people were telling me to "Pray For Boston".

I started a pot of penne and began chopping. I chopped peppers and mushrooms and onions and sun-dried tomatoes. Took some chicken sausage out of the freezer, thawed it out and chopped that up, too. And as it so often happens, as I cooked..my kids talked.

I told them to turn off the t.v. To come into the kitchen and gab with mom. So they did. The two younger boys at first, then my Molly came out of her room.."Wait..are you guys talking about Boston?" she asked, as she sidled up next to me in front of the stove. As the warm delicious smells of sauteed goodness filled the kitchen, so did their words, their questions.

We talked about what kind of person would do this. "Do you think it was terrorists, mom?" asked Henry. I asked him what he meant by terrorists. "You know, like Osama Bin Laden guys." I told him what I really thought: that I think this was done by "our" guys. Homegrown lunatics. I also told him we'll know soon enough. "Will they catch him, mom?" asked my baby, my almost-teenager William. As I drained the pasta, I assured him that the bad guy will get caught. There's no way he won't, honey, I said.

After we ate, we turned on the news and we watched some of the video taken earlier that day. Watched as people went from cheering and smiling to screaming and grimacing. Watched dozens and dozens of heroes clad in fluorescent yellow (and dozens more wearing running clothes and spectator clothes) flew into unknown dangers to help the fallen. Interviews with people who were there, people who had been unknowingly standing in the wrong place at the wrong time (or, given the fact that they were standing there being interviewed, it seems as though maybe they were in the right place). We watched as our own local newscasters assured us that the Mall of America was safe and that we shouldn't worry about our own little marathon that's held in October. Watched as the screen flashed with Tweets from reporters and facebook updates from celebrities.

And then they started talking about Matt Damon's wedding.

"Time for bed, guys." After they went to bed I decided to check in online. Just for a minute, you know. Took a peek at facebook and after seeing the hundredth candle and several pictures of random, anonymous little kids running in marathons with the words "LIKE AND SHARE OUT OF RESPECT FOR THIS CHILD" (people, really??) decided to shut it down for the night. But..

I made a mistake then. I looked at some pictures. I saw a girl, a young woman, lying on the ground, eyes open wide, jaw slack. She was lifeless, obviously. A rescue worker had a blue-gloved hand at the young woman's neck, feeling for a pulse.

Then, a picture of a young man being pushed, a running, frantic push, in a wheelchair. He was awake and pale and obviously, in shock. He was clutching what was left of his legs, and a man running next to him was holding what appeared to be an artery. Pinching it, as he ran next to the injured fellow.

Why? Why is this okay? I know that this is what our world is now: a world with no privacy, no shelter from any storm. But who decided it was okay to run a picture of a dead woman? Did someone ask the man who was gone from the knees down if it was okay to take his picture? Not only take it, but splash it everywhere online?

What happened in Boston yesterday was brutal and wrong. But what happened online afterwards? That was wrong too. Our social-media driven world is cheapening everything, it's robbing moments like the one in Boston of its intimacy, of its solemnity. We have become a world of rubberneckers, a society of clucking pigeons. Hashtagging and instagramming what we should be thinking and doing. Putting somebody in the spotlight at the worst possible moment in their lives. In the lives of their family members.

I know how curmudgeonly this makes me sound. I know some of you are saying, "Suck it up, Grumpy Old Lady. It's the way things are now." Yes, it's the way things are now. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

There is, literally, nothing I can do to help those hurt in Boston. Aside from pray, and donate whatever bit I have to their recovery funds. I wish I could hop on a plane and go to their hospital rooms and hold their hands.  Get them a glass of cold water. Offer to take care of their kids, walk their dogs or feed their cats. 

I can't do that. None of us can. But what we can do, is try to make a difference in our own neighborhoods. Put down our phones for a bit. Shut off the laptop. Smile at strangers, give out compliments. Hold doors open, let someone merge in front of us. Be a big tipper.

Let us never lose sight of the humanity around us. The world may be changing, but we are who we have always been. Fellow people. Neighbors. Co-workers. Friends. Let's not lose sight of that, okay?

Here are some other ways to help:

The One Fund Boston: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino have announced the formation of The One Fund Boston, Inc. to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013.

The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation. The Kraft family has promised to match the first $100k in donations. Good on ya, Kraft...

The Richard Family Fund They went to watch Dad run the Boston Marathon. There are no words.

There are countless other places to donate, these are the first three I came across. 


  1. Replies
    1. LMAO! Apparently so :) Made an honest woman out of his baby mama. I like their love story.

  2. Well stated. I was thinking the same thing as my feeds became bogged down with images that day.

  3. What happened in Boston was a tragedy, and a remarkable show of heroism. As so many were running away, many were running forward to help. The most iconic image to come out of the Boston situation was of a young man in a wheelchair with horrifying injuries being frantically rushed to emergency care. Yes, that image is very graphic. It and others got circulated quickly.

    The issue I have with your essay, is your quotes and the words that proceed and follow; "Yes, it's the way things are now." "Putting somebody in the spotlight at the worst possible moment in their lives."

    Do you know about a little thing called the Zapruder film? That was, and has been shown over and over? That was the assassination of a PRESIDENT. How about the image of Phan Thi Kim Phuc. The young girl running down a road in Vietnam after a napalm attack? Not only is she burning almost to death, she is unclothed. That image was on the cover of the New York Times the NEXT day in 1972. How about the image of three young African Americans lynched in Duluth in 1920? Also shown on the front page.

    The young man in the wheelchair has sadly been affected for the rest of his life. He was also instrumental to bringing the suspects to the attention of the authorities, helping end the continued tragedy. The image of him still haunts me.

    I guess my point is, it's not anything new, it's all just happening faster. I imagine folks in 1972 bought a paper and showed it to anybody they knew who hadn't yet seen it. That image also helped change opinion of the war here in America. The image from Duluth helped bring the rising racial tensions in the north to peoples consciousness.

    I like, and read your blog. But selective memory drives me crazy.

    BTW. The image of the nude burning girl in Vietnam? Won the Pulitzer Prize for photography that year. Oh, and World Press Photo of the Year.

    Looking forward to seeing the good come out of this. As I'm sure you are.

    1. Your comment has reminded me that I am nowhere near mastering the fine art of "getting to the point". I have all these thoughts in my head, getting them out in a cohesive and orderly manner is hard.

      Yep. Of course I remember all of the images you bring up. I remember all of them, and more. My dad had a subscription to National Geographic and I'd spend hours poring over the photographs of war and famine and natural disasters. Guilty as charged.

      I remember wanting to find out what happened to that little Vietnamese girl, and thinking how awesome our world was that I had been able to look her up and see that she survived that unspeakable horror. Not only survived, but thrived. I always wanted to know more about the boy in front of her in the picture, too.

      Capturing images of life's brutality has been happening since our ancestors discovered they could draw on the walls of their caves.

      The difference between how things happened THEN vs. how they happen now is, like you said, "it's all just happening faster". And now instead of just the images and mayhap a line or two or maybe an article, you get memes made up with them and those inane facebook posts (like and share if you care!). You get "celebrities" on Twitter pontificating in 140 characters. It was three or four pictures I saw that night, those pictures of little kids running in races that said "Share in memory of this angel" that got me cringing. BECAUSE THOSE KIDS WEREN'T IN BOSTON. It was some doofus grabbing pictures off the web and trying to get people to "like" or "share" them, for whatever reason. For some reason that pissed me off.

      And yes, I smelled my own hypocrisy just last night when I did a search for that man in the wheelchair. Because I just wanted to know he was going to be okay. I found this:


      (link probably won't work here, but it's safe...just goes to a NY Times article)

      His dad saw that picture on facebook. And also through social media he (and the rest of us) found out the name of the cowboy hat wearin' hero. And through this crazy interweb world, I found out that the guy in the wheelchair was going to be okay.

      I'm glad you like, and read my blog. But I'm gladder (is that a word?) that you spoke up and let me know what you took issue with in this post. My opinion is just that: mine. I relish the chance to hear from others. That's how we learn. And I thank you for sharing YOUR view with me. It made me think.


  4. And thanks for adding those links -- it's really important we get past the media frenzy and remember to DO something. That media frenzy can be damn hypnotizing if we let it. Action, help, donations, good words to strangers (as you suggested), makes the difference. It's the difference between being a spectator and a participant in the healing. Again: thanks.

    1. Yes, hypnotizing. That's what it is. My BFF and I were glued to the t.v. last night, watching the coverage yet again. Don't get me started...I kept seeing that 19 year old BABY and wondering what the hell could happen to a kid that would cause him to do this. He's the same age as my Charlie.

      And now I'm crying over the explosion in Texas. It never ends.

      Thanks, friend, for everything.

  5. Thank you. I am in COMPLETE agreement with you. I am from Boston, and knew several of the injured as well as many of the rescue workers. People completely forgot that in "liking" and "sharing" these pictures, what they were actually doing was violating the privacy of someone's worst moment ever. They were victimizing the victims again. And social media made those five days a melange of constant flowing misinformation. They got him, they didn't. They have a suspect, they don't. It is a terror cell, but no one knows which one, it is a lone wolf. It is the Saudis, it is the IRA. Blah.

    If we want to make sure this doesn't happen again, we start rediscovering our humanity as you said. We get connected again to the people in real life. We ask people how they are doing, and we care about the answer! Thank you for making so much sense.

  6. Excellent, sensitive post as always, Jenny. This event would have been really upsetting to me, like anyone, no matter what, but I think Greg and I felt hit extra hard because it was a marathon, and runners and their "cheerleaders" were affected. Not that we are at all fast enough to qualify for Boston (yet)...but still, it felt like "there but for the grace of God..."I heard about it when I got back to the car after grocery shopping Monday, and just sat in the parking lot glued to the radio, not able to leave for a few minutes...I still cannot imagine what people who lost a loved one -- or a limb -- must be feeling. But, I saw your point immediately. Some of the posts on social media, and even on news media websites seemed like they were straddling a very fine line, risking turning a horrific tragedy (well duh, what other kind of tragedy is there??) into a glib, self-serving meme. That was a lot less possible back when JFK was shot, or when that poor Vietnamese girl was napalmed. It is a pitfall of our social media -- but like you said, isn't it great that we can also find out in just a few clicks that victims become survivors? Or, that you can perform a real public service and post those links to fundraising sites to help people affected by the bombings (THANKS for that!!) BTW, here's another one -- another uber-cool lady named Jenny (Hadfield -- she's a running coach) is organizing a virtual marathon as a fundraiser to help folks who lost limbs in the bombings. The entry fees ($15/person) will all go to that cause, and all you have to do is log 26.2 miles at any time from 4/29-5/31...and not even all at once! (I bet you and Walter could even walk it :) Here's the link: https://www.jennyhadfield.com/run-for-peace/
    Hope it is OK to share that. THANKS for the links, and for your thoughts as always!

  7. I was just talking to my mother about things like this. I agree with Anonymous (#2) about disturbing images and videos shown being nothing new, but I believe that the AMOUNT and complete access to any of these images is tragic. It's the same as the lynching, Vietnam, and the Zapruder film. Because of ACCESS now you can see any of those things online at any time in any form. There are many things that are great about that, but there are many things that make me feel sad about that. Just because those images are, or were, displayed, doesn't mean it's okay. That's the world we live in though, so I can only complain a little bit.

    As far as "How I feel about technology and Boston" goes, I have a few things to add:
    The fact that they put Dzhokhar's Twitter account name public was, in my opinion, kind of ridiculous. This gave millions of hurting people an opportunity to do research on this man - which I actually don't mind - but also gave them access to try to calculate a 19 year old person's thoughts, or rants, and try to connect them to these bombings. I have, as well as my brother, probably put some outrageous information on social media. Maybe I drank a little too much, maybe I had an extremely difficult day at work, or maybe I just wanted to vent. If, a year after a vent-y like post, I decide to take a life, reading through my posts may or may not give insight into why I decided to take that life, but that should be for professionals to decide.
    The media also has to rush into everything, which can sometimes bring more harm then good. The fact that the media takes opportunities to interview most everyone is just ridiculous. "This just in from an individual who attended the suspect's high school, but never even met them, and really never even saw them but graduated a year earlier so they must have some insight". That in my opinion is just as bad, if not the same, as giving misinformation. Oh the rush... which brings me to my next issue.
    The next problem I have is the complete overshare of misinformation. I understand that people care and have the right to share, but pretty soon after information was given about possible mortality, images were circulating of a small girl and how she was killed in the bombing. That hadn't been proven at that point, but people just continue to not do their research. This access to a wealth of information should be a source of building in our society, but apparently some my friends on social media aren't part of the growing process.
    It just makes me question people's intent when information comes out. Less about getting appropriate knowledge out there, and more about being the first to know any information, relevant or not.
    I am thankful for not having a smartphone and becoming consumed in times where I should be praying and not refreshing; and also giving the media time to just figure it all out before taking the first word they give and run with it.
    I agree that exposure to such a wealth of disturbing images is making those images cheap, and the people in those images cheap. Not only could the people in those photographs be robbed, but their families as well. It's pretty selfish of me to think, but I just think about the main what if - What if one of those people in the images (wounded, killed, or in danger) were a member of my family? That would be terrible.

    I loved this post just as much as I love your baby-daddy drama posts! I love feeling like I can relate to you in so many things, even being from what feels like different worlds!



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